Subi’s back, baby: Where to eat and drink in the revived inner-city hotspot

Source: WA Today

It’s been a long time coming, but inner-city Subiaco – best known for most of the 20th century for its now-demolished Subiaco Oval and generations of hardcore footy fans – has rebounded.

As a dining and drinking destination, the former working-class suburb hit its straps when the West Coast Eagles moved into the then-80-year-old stadium in 1987 (the stadium was finally closed after 110 years in 2017).

The Eagles were – still are – considered the team of the posh western suburbs. The old gag about the Subiaco Oval bars only stocking chardonnay at Eagles home games has some truth to it.

It was the Eagles fan base which gave rise to Subi’s halcyon days of hospitality and the domino effect changed everything.

Friday night, after-work drinkers flooded Subiaco. Queues were long. The Subiaco Hotel was 10-deep at the bar with advertising executives, lawyers, trust fund hellraisers, politicians and small-cap mining entrepreneurs.
Then it all fell apart. “For lease” signs went up on shops on Rokeby Road. The crowds disappeared. Subi had lost its mojo.

Hospo bosses blamed greedy landlords. Landlords blamed local government for failing to deliver the state government’s newly minted small bar laws, designed to bring life back to inner-urban neighbourhoods.

Subiaco council notoriously became the most stick-in-the-mud local authority when it came to approvals for small bars and restaurants.

As one wannabe bar owner said at the time, dealing with Subiaco council was like wading through treacle with a 60-kilogram backpack. At the same time, the City of Perth was streamlining applications for bars and encouraging operators to make Perth their home.

The city boomed. Subiaco went dark.

You might not have noticed but Subiaco is back from its decades-long hibernation. In the past few years, new venues have opened, tentatively to begin with, up and down the Rokeby Road-Hay Street retail strips.

Importantly, many of the new venues have brought back a younger crowd who had fled the suburb as it became dowdy and, well, beige.

Here are some of the best new restaurants and bars in Subiaco.

Northbridge bar and hotel owner Clint Nolan opened his first venue outside the CBD entertainment precinct on Hay Street Subiaco last year. La Condesa, his Tex-Mex, SoCal bar heaves with the young and the hip. Nolan is down with the yoof and they’re repaying his on-trend sensibilities with queues out the door.

Around the corner, one of Subi’s most underrated venues, Bar Loiter, opened three years ago by Patrick Ryan and his investor group. It’s a little more sedate than Nolan’s party bar, but the food is good and the wines are next level. Its long table is one of the best in Perth for groups of up to 14.

A few metres away, Yiamas, a Greek-styled restaurant in Denis Street opened earlier this year. It has had good reviews.

Hospo veteran Benny Tua opened Shui on Rokeby Road a few months ago and it too is bringing back big spending youngsters with its eye-catching décor, good cocktails and modern, pan-Asian plates.

Lums Winebar was a surprise hit when it opened this year. The Hay Street bar attracts a slightly older, 30-something crowd with its cheerful service, a wine list with a global reach and great depth and its noisy, fun buzz. The bar food is good too.

Cherubino City Cellar is ground zero for a well-dressed, mature crowd of drinkers who flock there to sit at the bar, eat innovative small plate dishes and drink everything from an entry level chardonnay to mind-boggling Burgundy and Chablis. It’s a home away from home for many locals.

WA hospitality’s quiet achiever and multi-venue owner Miles Hull will be opening his Subiaco Continental in July and if it goes off like his other venues – The Jetty at East Fremantle is a case in point – it will deliver big on customer experience.

It will be a massive 300-seater “tavern-cum bistro with New York attitude, sort of moody and dark at night, light and breezy and fresh in summer,” according to Hull.

“We’ll have al fresco on the Rokeby-Roberts Road corner.”

Hull will be bringing Jetty Bar chef Marcello Segolina to run the kitchen at Subiaco, and, good news, it will be open seven days a week from mid-morning to late.

You could argue that the entrepreneurs who started the new gold rush to Subiaco were Adrian Young and his mates, who bought the once famous Subiaco Hotel as its fortunes flagged, and re-booted the corner boozer.

It’s still a corner boozer, and it lacks the extraordinary culinary chops it had in the 80s and 90s, but The Subi has brought the waning crowds back to its historic bars and dining rooms for chicken parmi, a steak and a pint of Swan Draught.

It might not be on the Rokeby Road-Hay Street axis, but it’s in the same postcode. La Bastide opened earlier this year with an impeccable bistro menu and a chef who could turn a flip-flop into a three-course dinner. The wine list is an adventure and just where did the owners get their staff from in these hard-pressed times? They are remarkable.

While you’re down there, here are some of the stalwarts who have weathered the on again, off again fortunes of Subiaco.

Lady of Ro is a cramped, much-loved café at the top (Kings Park) end of Rokeby Road and well worth the journey for its Greek(ish) plates.

Two doors down, Juanita’s Bar is still dragging them in, and for real deal family Italian, Piccolo is just metres away, also on Rokeby.